Football club takes faith to the airwaves

Football and the church have close historical links(Photo: Unsplash/Edgar Chaparro)

Thousands of BBC local radio listeners across England tuned in to an unusual sporting-themed church service on Sunday morning.

It wasn't broadcast from a typical place of worship, a church or a cathedral, but from Wycombe Wanderers FC – a football club in the Championship, the second rung of English soccer.

Four of the team's leading players joined the Buckinghamshire club's chaplain Benedict Musola for the special act of worship broadcast across the country's 38 BBC local radio stations.

Professional footballers Adebayo Akinfenwa, Jason McCarthy, Alex Samuel and Cameron Yates spoke of their Christian faith during the 30-minute service, aired on FM and also available via the BBC Sounds app.

Chaplain Benedict Musola explained how the team prayed on the pitch before matches and held regular Bible studies at their training ground.

He told listeners: "I am grateful for the opportunity to serve God in this role, which uniquely combines my passion for God and my passion for football."

The service featuring Wycombe Wanderers underlines the close links between football and faith.

In 'Thank God for Football', published by SPCK in 2006, author Peter Lupson featured chapters on the Christian roots of soccer clubs including Aston Villa, Barnsley, Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Queen's Park Rangers, Southampton, Swindon Town and Tottenham Hotspur.

Last month, League Two side Bradford City FC hosted an online carol service with Bradford Cathedral.

It included readings and contributions from City manager Stuart McCall, and players Billy Clarke, Clayton Donaldson and Richard O'Donnell. The service was streamed across all the Yorkshire club's social media channels.

A spokesperson for the club explained: "An online carol service has been a possibility for a while now, and 2020 presented the perfect opportunity to do so.

"This year has been far from straightforward in every sense, but we hope our service brought some much-needed festive cheer as we approached a 2021 full of promise and positivity."

Sunday's Wycombe Wanderers service – produced for the BBC by Nick Coffer and Alex Strangwayes-Booth – is one of a series of Christian acts of worship broadcast on BBC local radio stations at 8am on Sundays since the onset of the pandemic in March.

The services have included broadcasts from Archbishop Justin Welby, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop John Sentamu. They have won praise nationwide for easing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The Sunday morning services have formed one part of the important role played by local media during the series of lockdowns.

Callers to BBC local radio stations – often older people – have been expressing their thanks for keeping them in touch and raising their spirits during the pandemic.

Commenting on the church services, Chris Burns, Head of Local Radio for the BBC, said: "We know from personal testament just how important these broadcasts have proved to be. They have played an important role in bringing communities together virtually so no one need feel they are on their own.

"We expanded our religious programming on the first weekend of lockdown in March and will continue to broadcast services and reflections until life returns to normal."

Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, a keen football supporter, and an advocate for the importance of local media.